Home > The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(10)

The Ripper (The Vampire Diaries: Stefan's Diaries #4)(10)
Author: L.J. Smith

"Don't worry, darling," Damon said, placing his hand on her shoulder in a move so tender, it surprised me. Did he actual y like this woman, or was he just using her for money and status? "This is my old friend, Stefan . . . if that's what you're going by nowadays?"

"Stefan Pine, and this is my friend, Violet," I explained, taking Charlotte's delicate hand and bringing it to my lips for a kiss.

"I'm an actress. From America," Violet said, trying hard to put on an American accent as she sank into a deep curtsy.

"Are you?" Charlotte asked pointedly, a sharp edge to her tone as she tried to determine whether or not Violet was competition.

"Wel , I'd like to be," Violet demurred, clearly realizing that her statement was not the best way to get in Charlotte's good graces. "So would my sister. Cora Burns. Do you know her?"

Charlotte's expression softened slightly. "Cora . . . the name sounds familiar," Charlotte said, tugging on Damon's shirtsleeve. "Do we know a Cora, love?"

Damon rol ed his eyes. "As if I could keep track of everyone we meet. That's what the society pages are for, right? If they're there, then I've met them. And if not, then I haven't."

"Wel , if you meet her, please tel her that her sister is looking for her," Violet said tentatively. I felt nothing but relief. Charlotte seemed somewhat familiar with Cora's name. Maybe Cora simply had gone off with a theater producer.

"Doesn't ring a bel , sweetheart, sorry." Damon shrugged.

"It's okay," Violet said sadly. "Just so she knows I'm looking."

"Speaking of looking," Charlotte said brightly, breaking the silence, "I think I need another glass of champagne." In the short conversation, she'd already drained her whole flute. "Would you like to come with me? And maybe if you're lucky, I'l introduce you to Mr. Mackintosh, the producer of our little show. Your sister's not the only one who could be an actress."

Violet's eyes gleamed as the two girls walked away into the swirl of revelers. Damon watched with a bemused expression.

"Women!" he remarked once they were firmly out of earshot. "Can't live with them, can't live without them. Am I right? The nagging, the compliments, the enthusiasm . . . no wonder humans age so quickly," he said, throwing back his own glass of champagne.

"Wel , it seems you have a steady source of nourishment," I said darkly. Was Damon's choice of women what ignited the wrath of Klaus? Or something else? Whatever it was, I'd play nice until I got to the bottom of it.

"Oh yes. She does wel , although the blood is often rather alcoholic. Great before a big night out, but I have to be careful not to overindulge," Damon said casual y, as if he were reviewing a brand-new restaurant. "And you? Have you gone back to human blood in your middle age? Don't tel me you're stil subsisting on squirrels and bunnies!" He guffawed.

"I'm not talking about Charlotte," I said, ignoring his teasing. "And I'm here to stop you. You're being stupid and careless, and you're going to get hurt. What are you even doing here?"

"I'm here for the weather," Damon parried back sarcastical y. "Do I need a reason? Maybe I decided to see the sights. America felt too smal .

Here, there are al sorts of persions."

"What kind of persions?" I asked pointedly.

Damon smiled again, revealing his ultra-white teeth. "You know, the usual ones that come with traveling abroad: meeting new people, trying new cuisines . . ."

"Trying your hand at murder?'' I hissed, lowering my voice so that no one else could hear me.

Confusion crossed Damon's face, fol owed by a long, hol ow laugh.

"Oh, you mean the Jack the Ripper nonsense? Please. Don't you know me better?" Damon asked when he final y stopped chuckling.

"I know you wel enough," I said, clenching my jaw. "And I know you love attention. This is bad news for you."

"No news is bad news for me." Damon yawned, as if the conversation bored him. "Wel , then you know, brother, that I've always abhorred guessing games and I have no patience for hysteria. I'd much rather kil discreetly."

"So you haven't kil ed anyone recently?" I asked, my eyes darting around the room to make sure no one was listening. No one was. The partiers around us were far too busy drinking and laughing to think anything of our intense conversation in the shadows.

"No!" Damon said, annoyed. "I'm having far too much fun with my wicked lady of the stage. And let me tel you, she is wicked," he said, suggestively waggling his eyebrows.

"Fine," I said. I wouldn't give Damon the satisfaction of listening to his exploits. "But the murders . . ."

"Are being done by some stupid human who'l be caught sooner or later," Damon said, shrugging.

"No." I shook my head and briefly explained what I'd seen, the bloody SALVATORE - I SHALL HAVE MY REVENGE message in Dutfield Park.

"So?" Damon asked, barely a flicker crossing his face.

"I think it could be Klaus," I snapped, frustrated at having to spel out what appeared so obvious to me. "Who else writes bloody messages and knows our name?"

Damon's eyes widened slightly, only to immediately go back to his satisfied, lazy expression. "That's your clue?" he asked. "Because anyone could write that. And I hate to bruise your ego, Stefan, but we're not exactly the only Salvatores in the world. It could even be the name of one of those Whitechapel girls. I'm not concerned. And of course the murderer, whoever he was, used blood to write. Ink and paper just doesn't have the same horrific effect." He sighed, glancing over to the bar, where Violet and Charlotte were tipping back their glasses of champagne and giggling.

"Now, if you'l excuse me, I need a drink. Come with me, brother. Let's celebrate our reunion," he said, picking his way through the crowd. I fol owed him, furious. He was acting like I'd told him a joke. Didn't he care that a psychotic vampire was on the loose? Didn't it bother him that we might be the target of a murderer?

Apparently not. Every few steps, he was stopped by various admirers: girls I recognized from the chorus, a smal man with an enormous white bushy beard who seemed to be the theater tailor, and a barrel-chested man with gold cufflinks and a top hat whom I imagined to be one of the producers for the company. I tried to ask him light questions to see if he had any connection to Cora, but I knew this man wasn't the one. He had a thick British accent and dark hair. Nothing like Eliza's description. Every time Damon was stopped, he laughed and smiled, clinking his glass and offering up compliments. I had to hand it to him - on the surface, Damon was nothing but a perfect gentleman.

"See how wel I'm behaving?" Damon asked after we final y got to the bar and the bartender offered us two glasses of champagne.

"Like a regular priest," I said. It was odd to be at a party with Damon. One part of me stil wanted it to be like it had been back when we were humans, when we'd always anticipate what the other was going to do or say. The other, wiser part of me knew I could never trust Damon as a vampire - after al , he'd kil ed Cal ie, he'd have kil ed the Sutherlands if Klaus and his minions hadn't gotten to them first, and he left Lexi and I twenty years ago, barely saying good-bye.

And yet, in his mind, nothing would settle the score that Damon thought existed between us. After al , I was the one who'd turned Damon into a vampire. He'd begged me not to, but I'd forced him to drink blood, had forced him to live out this eternity. He'd never forgiven me. Over time, even though there was a mounting list of offenses and wrongs that he'd done me, I stil would erase them al from my mind if it meant we could be true brothers, like we'd been before. And it was al too painful to realize that would never come to pass when, even to outsiders, we appeared to be the best of friends. Indeed, Damon was constantly introducing me to a whole host of people as his "old friend Stefan from the States," and al I could do was smile, nod, and wish I lived in a world where it truly was that simple.

"Charlotte was bewitching as always," I heard a voice say and glanced up. A tal blond gentleman was standing next to Damon. He was wearing a white silk shirt buttoned al the way to the top of his neck, along with an elegant black topcoat. His shoes were Italian leather, and it was impossible to tel his age - he could be anywhere from twenty-five to forty.

"Samuel!" Damon exclaimed, giving the man a hearty clap on the back. "This is Stefan, an old friend."

"Hel o," I said stiffly, bowing my head slightly. I sensed Samuel appraising my rough hands, chapped and cut up from weeks of hard physical labor, as wel as the five o'clock shadow forming on my face. I'd fal en out of the habit of daily shaves while at Abbott Manor.

"Welcome," Samuel said after a long moment. "Any friend of Damon's is a friend of mine." But before he could say anything else, Charlotte and Violet walked toward us, Violet clearly tipsy.

"This is the most exquisite day of my life!" Violet announced to no one in particular, flinging her champagne glass up in a toast so violently that the liquid sprayed in a constel ation-like pattern on her silk dress.

"To imagine, I was like that once," Charlotte said in mock horror. "I do hope you take her home and teach her some of the finer points of mingling in polite society," she added, looking pointedly at me.

"Wel , unfortunately, Violet wil get none of that with Stefan, darling. Although she wil get a lot of lessons. Stefan loves hearing himself talk. Why, I think he's talked me to death in the past."

"I almost love talking as much as Damon loves listening to himself," I said, an undercurrent of annoyance evident beneath my jocular tone. I needed to get Violet back to the hotel. After al , she had to work tomorrow night. But I knew it would be a chal enge to get her to wil ingly leave this party. And we stil hadn't found Cora.

"Wel , I must go, but wil I see you and Charlotte tomorrow near Grove House?" Samuel asked after a moment, glancing meaningful y at Damon.

"Of course." Damon nodded.

"One o'clock? It has to be before my show," Charlotte said.

"Yes," Samuel said. "And, Stefan? Would you and your friend like to come? It could be amusing," he said dryly. I blinked at him. I felt everything he said was just on the edge of an insult, but it was impossible to pinpoint what was so offensive about the words themselves.

"Want to come to a party, brother?" Damon asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Oh, please?" Violet asked, clapping her hands together.

"We'l see," I said stiffly.

"Violet, would you like to come?" Typical Damon. "Stefan wil if he can pencil it in between his moralizing, Shakespeare reading, and detective work."

"Detective work?" Charlotte asked in confusion.

"Never mind, pet," Damon said. "Inside joke."

"It's a boring story," I said. "Far more interesting is Damon's love of drama. You should get him to talk about the acts he's pul ed off."

"You're an actor?" Violet asked.

"We'l talk more at the party!" Damon said, clearly annoyed. Wel , good. If talking in code and getting under his skin was the way to get him to pay attention to me, then I'd do it.

"Yes!" Violet said eagerly.

"We should probably be going," I said gently, taking Violet's arm and escorting her through the throngs of people and out the door.

I breathed a sigh of relief as the cool air hit my face. It was the perfect antidote to the hot, crowded, tense atmosphere of the party. I didn't think about Damon. I focused on the buzz of the gas lamps above and the flutter of the leaves and the staccato steps of pedestrians - al of the everyday noises I heard, amplified because of my senses, but rarely appreciated.

Once we got back to the room, I placed Violet on the bed, gently tucking the coverlet around her body. Her eyes were ful y shut by the time her head hit the silk pil owcase.

I took longer to fal asleep. Outside, the streets of London were stil buzzing, and every time I closed my eyes, I thought I could hear Damon's laugh, wafting up from the streets and into my mind.

Chapter Nine

I 've always been a brother. It's a thought that comes to me, unbidden, late at night or when I'm walking silently through the forest, stalking my prey. No matter who knows that about me, or whether or not I share that information, it's a part of me that I can never forget.

When I came along, of course, I had my parents, but they were older, authoritarian, a presence in the morning and in the evening. But Damon was always by my side. He was who I explored the world with, who I rebelled against, who I occasionally yearned to be.

On the other hand, Damon was not always a brother. As the eldest, there were years where it was just him, alone in the world.

He'd never had the constant sense that he was being compared to someone else. He'd never known what it was like to always be reaching for the sun while standing in the shadow of another.

I don't think he ever felt that way about me. He was always the older brother, always showing me how things were done, always coaxing me to ride a horse I was frightened of, or kiss a girl whom I was worried wouldn't like me back. I watched him, wide-eyed, as he conquered the world.

And even now, I couldn't break free from him. I couldn't stop being a younger brother, who was simultaneously fearful and in awe of the unique force that was Damon Salvatore.

"How do I look?" I woke to Violet prancing into the room, wearing a light blue dress with a crinoline underneath that rustled with every step.

   
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